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Wheelchair-Bound Kirkland Mom Will Trek 300 Miles to Raise Money for Guide Dogs of America

Wheelchair-Bound Kirkland Mom Will Trek 300 Miles to Raise Money for Guide Dogs of America.

Tania Finlayson poses with Hector, a Guide Dog puppy in training. Finlayson, who has cerebral palsy, is preparing for a 300-mile wheelchair ride to raise money for Guide Dogs of America, with the support of IAM 751 in Seattle. Credit: IAM 751
Tania Finlayson poses with Hector, a Guide Dog puppy in training. Finlayson, who has cerebral palsy, is preparing for a 300-mile wheelchair ride to raise money for Guide Dogs of America, with the support of IAM 751 in Seattle. Credit: IAM 751

Written by Kathleen Miller

About this sponsorship: In honor of the 60th anniversary of Sir Edmund Hillary’s historic ascent of Mount Everest, Patch and Grape-Nuts are teaming up to highlight those who inspire people around them to climb their own mountains.

Tania Finlayson has been confined to a wheelchair since birth, but that has not stopped her from living an adventurous life.

She was born with cerebral palsy. She doesn’t have any use of any of her limbs and can't communicate vocally. She recalls, “My family's greatest gift to me was they raised me like a normal child and didn't expect any less of me throughout my childhood. My family let me fly with my broken wings.”

“When I was old enough to read, I was given a communication word board with about 200 words on it. A couple of years later, my dad decided that I should try a typewriter. Several years later, my mom heard about a study for non-verbal children at the University of Washington. Al Ross, the project’s research engineer, wanted to find out if Morse code could be an effective way for kids to communicate. Luckily, I was one of five kids whom were chosen to participate in the two-year project, and my life has never been the same. Ross created a Morse code-based communication system that I used for 20 years. Al is one of my heroes.”

“Al's system, and another system, created by Bill Jeppson, helped me get through college, made it possible for me to enter the workforce, and made it possible for me to reach my goal to skydive. Through skydiving, I met the love of my life, my husband Ken. We have been together for 12 years, and three years ago, we became parents to the most wonderful boy in the world, Michael Kenneth MacLeod Finlayson.”

Finlayson, along with Jay Pennel, has now designed a new Morse Code input device called the TandemMaster. And she is determined to provide more guide dogs to assist the disabled.

When she came up with a plan to raise money for Guide Dogs of America by traveling 300 miles this summer in her wheelchair, supported by family and a team from Seattle’s Machinists Union District Lodge 751, her husband Ken says, “I thought she was crazy.” “But, I mean, she’s come up with a lot of crazy things. We met skydiving. One thing I’ve learned about Tania is that it is a lot more comfortable and safer to get behind her when she gets her mind in something, than get in front of her. Because if you get in front of her, she’ll probably run you over.”

Q. What is the biggest challenge you have taken on?

A. “On Saturday, June 8th, I will attend the Flight for Sight fun run in Everett then drive my chin-controlled electric wheelchair from Everett, Washington to Portland, Oregon to raise money for Guide Dogs of America.  The trip will be 300 miles. Obviously, the batteries in my chair will not be able to last that long. So, I am towing a generator, which is powering my chair. I would like to make it in three days, but we are allocating four days, in case things do not go exactly as planned.  Regardless of how long it takes me, I will make it.”

Q. What inspired you to take this challenge?

A. “Last June, my husband Ken was going to participate in the Flight for Sight fun run. Like always, I wanted to be there to see him reach his goal that he had been working towards for several months before the event. We were about half way to the race location, when Ken looked at me, and said, “you should do this with me.” I just laughed, and looked at him like he was insane. But before I could blink, I was at the starting line waiting for the gun to fire. As I was doing the race, I thought of how it would be if I were blind. If I could not see, I would basically be totally dependent on others, to help me live life."

"It was at that moment that I realized how lucky I was. I am lucky because I am able to see, and my sight helps me maintain independence. My independence is something that I treasure and value every day!"

"Furthermore, I reflected how fortunate I was, because I am able to help others, despite my physical challenges, and I wanted to do more to help. So, I thought driving to Spokane (her original destination, which was recently changed to Portland) would challenge me, and be something that I could do, almost, on my own."

"I gave it some thought, for a few days, before I told anyone about it, and decided to go for it. I told Ken and my son first. Ken thought I was off my rocker, but he supports me even so! Michael, our son, was all over the idea, and seeing him smile, as we talked about it, gave me more motivation to do it!”

Q. When will you know you have succeeded?

A. “Well, I guess it depends on how you define "succeed." So far, we have raised $18,735 for Guide Dogs of America.  Although my goal is $42,000, that is certainly a success. Information on how people can help contribute towards this goal can be found on ourFacebook page. We have certainly raised awareness for the cause and rallied together many people behind this cause. Certainly I could not do this myself. You can see many of the people who contributed to this project on the Aerospace Machinists Union District 751's website."

"After the event is over, I am not sure what we will be doing.  Mostly I will be looking forward to planning activities and spending time with our son, Michael. Maybe we can make this an annual ride, and have other people participate as well. And someday, I would like to figure out how to make a solo sky dive.”

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